Experiencing how other cultures greet each other is one of the things I love most about learning a new language. In many ways, the greetings are similar—”Hello,” “How are you,” “What is your name,” “My name is”—but expressed with their own unique flavor. The richness of World Music gives us a vehicle through which we can better understand and connect with a community of people, which is why I am thrilled to present today’s video premiere, “Anta Gata Doko Sa” (“Where Are You From?”).
Elena Moon Park made her 2012 debut with the stunning Rabbit Days and Dumplings, an album that mixes traditional American folk music with traditional Asian sounds offering a diverse array of songs from East Asia (Korea, Japan, China, Tibet and Taiwan).
“Anta Gata Doko Sa” is a popular Japanese children’s song often sung while playing with a bouncing ball. Park’s video features beautifully animated oil painting (credit: Lauren Gregory) that fluidly glides along with the smooth Dub-infused rhythm of the song. The combination is fun to watch and learn from. Look for a charming little girl who bounces a ball with her shoulders and transforms into a ball herself.
For those in the New York area, Elena Moon Park will be performing in Symphony Space’s Just Kidding Series with Sonia De Los Santos on Nov. 5. I highly recommend this show as both of these artists are extremely memorable.
Check out Park’s video for “Sol Nal” which features Sonia De Los Santos.
Subscribe to Park’s YouTube channel to view additional live performances, and follow Park on Facebook to stay in touch.
It’s been quite a year. Big changes are coming to the Kids Can Groove household (to be revealed shortly!). While I’ve been busy on the home front, lots has been happening in the world of kids’ music and it is time to catch up on some excellent music videos.
Here are a few gems that have crossed my path recently, perfect to lovingly place in the back pocket of your favorite jeans. Or in any pocket you have handy.
“Smiles Are Contagious” – Bobby Beetcut While this isn’t Bobby Beetcut’s latest video (see “Energy” from Up in A Tree), “Smiles Are Contagious” is a catchy, timely contrast to the anxiety-producing (and frown-inducing) nature of current events. “What you put out comes back to you. When you feel love, you see that it’s true.” The video offers a powerful message behind a simple, yet equally powerful, gesture.
“Cousin Party” – Karen K Next up is some sweet country flare by Karen Kalafatas (of Karen K & the Jitterbugs) with a song and accompanying video that capture the joy and mischief of hanging with your ancestral brethren. “Cousin Party” is the second single release from Kalafatas’ bold solo effort, The Blue Bike Chronicles, which is meant to reach the more evolved, mature pre-tweenage crew. The single runs like Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” but without the Louisville Slugger and automobile fury. You’ll dig it, as will your pre-tween.
“Love Light Shine” – KB Whirly & Mista Cookie Jar Sometimes in music, you get collaborations that seem to be written in the stars, and you wonder, “What took them so long?” So it is with the gelling of KB Whirly and Mista Cookie Jar, two soul-fueled, super funktified, multifaceted kids’ music masters. They are so very well paired and really smooth. “Love Light Shine” was produced by Patrick Hanlin of Josh and the Jamtones and the result is a groovy vibe with far-out visuals that just makes you feel allll kinds of good.
“Lemonade” – Justin Roberts What happens when life hands you lemons? You dress them up and cast them in your video “Lemonade.” The latest release from Justin Roberts’ forthcoming album of the same name, “Lemonade” celebrates the nostalgia and refreshment on the dog days of summer and the tradition of setting up a stand to earn your first dollars. Justin’s delightful style echoes that of Paul Simon, both in his lyrical wit and his on-screen demeanor. A real treat to watch.
“Dream Too Much” – Amy Lee Amy Lee is known in the grown-up world as the golden voice of Evanescence (see “Bring Me To Life”). Now, after having a child of her own, she has partnered with Amazon Music to premiere her debut album for kids. The album’s first single, “Dream Too Much,” peeks into the surreal landscape of a child’s dream world, complete with animated paper imagery (such as flying sandwiches and jellyfish). The song’s mantra “there’s no way you can dream too much” gives kids (and parents) permission to let their imagination run free and wild because “once in a while you’ll have dreams that come true.”
“Dance Like There’s Music In Your Pants” – Sara Lovell Bay Area artist Sara Lovell encourages all happy feet to get on up and dance. Just like singing, moving your body is a therapeutic way to express yourself and lift your mood. Whether you’re dancing in your room, with your kids or friends, give this video a whirl and get ready to shake it. “Dance Like There’s Music in Your Pants” also features a special guest appearance by the son of Tommy Shepherd, Jr. (Alphabet Rockers).
While I’m working on some things behind the scenes, I’ve got some new music to share with you. So let’s take a dive into what’s poppin in the kindie world.
For the most part, the following items are videos, but I’m also pleased to share some audio clips from a couple of our favorite artists. So let’s start there.
Laura Doherty – “Early Bird & Night Owl” and “Animal Tracks”
Doherty releases her fourth children’s album today (April 1, 2026)! Animal Tracks is a collection of 10 previously released animal songs, plus 3 new ones. Dougherty has such a nice way of crafting cozy, singable songs. Doherty plays acoustic folk punctuated by a bouncy ukulele. A great combo that always prompts a little wiggle or two and incites lots of other kinds of interaction. Spending time with Dougherty always feels like a great way to pass the time. In celebration of the album’s release, she is also releasing the first single, “Early Bird, Night Owl” and the album’s title track.
Turkey Andersen is a crafty songwriter that tells interesting stories with a keen sense of humor. His sound echoes that of They Might Be Giants and is always entertaining to listen to. From Anderson’s latest album, Turkey Andersen 2, meet “Rhonda Bubbles” whose culinary choices are dictated by their shape. Unique, yet parents will find it very familiar.
The Okee Dokee Brothers – “Saddle Up.”
This video wows me as with most videos by the Brothers. Shot in Ultra HD, it’s almost like a virtual reality trip. Gorgeous panorama, sweeping landscapes from all points of view, and story song. “Saddle Up” is the first music video and title track from their forthcoming third adventure album. As Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander take viewers along for another ride as they once again explore and get inspired by the great outdoors. This time their journey takes them to the great West where, as you’ll see, they rode horses along the Continental Divide. Their story is inspiring and a testament to how getting connected with what’s outside really feeds the soul. Get ready to soak in the sights and sounds. Pre-order Saddle Up (CD + DVD Combo) through the Okee’s Official Store | iTunes | Amazon
Bay Area-based electro-kindie artist Liz DeRoche, aka The Singing Lizard, just released A Club Called Awesome which offers an exclusive membership for kids to find their happy place. And will they ever! In her latest video, DeRoche invites kids to be themselves, whatever that means to them. It’s a wonderful message and there is a really personal message in here for kids to know that there are no rules about what kids should like based on whether they are a girl or a boy. It’s a call for recognizing how awesome each and every child truly is. Get a behind the scenes explanation of what motivated DeRoche to write the song. Stay tuned for album review. iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp
“Astronauts Love” will immediately appeal to kids’ curious minds as they follow along and imagine what it’s like to be an astronaut in space. Questions like A clever, catchy little tune that fuses together what kids love to do in their own daily life with what an astronauts might be doing with all of their time in space. Could they really lift 600 lbs (due to lack of force) and not get sore? These and other questions are explored in Jamie’s new stop motion video. Purchase it at iTunes | Amazon
I’m a sucker for some good comedy and Phoebe Lichty’s video for “Duck’s Song” from her forthcoming album April Fool struck my funny bone. This video will absolutely make you smile. Though the song has a sincere message, Lichty has a pretty great sense of humor which balances the visual parody of the song’s accompanying video out nicely. “Duck’s Song” is presented as a parody of the TEDx stage speeches with a truly inspiring message. Heartfelt and empowering, the track encourages grabbing hold of your inner voice and owning your strengths and just going for it. No fear! Just fly!
“Duck’s Song” is also part of a greater narrative that lives in April Fool which tells the story of a girl (April) who wants to be a jester, a king who stands in her way, and a duck who inspires her to go for her dream.
Man do I love encountering some rock music that echoes the likes of what I stock up in my own library. With their new video, “Take a Time Out” (off of last year’s We’re Not Going Crazy) Chibi Kodama comes forth with a new video for a stellar song that reminds me a little of Weezer with the crunchy electric guitars that dominate throughout (in a good way). It begs for high volume and air guitar, inflatable guitar, real guitar or any DIY guitar that will allow serious shredding as soon as you click play. The song itself touches upon the need for kids to recognize (and parents) when its time to take a time out and reset. That’s true wisdom right there and though it’s sometimes so hard to do in the moment, this rockin’ song offers a catchy lyric or two that will serve as helpful reminders. What else does this video have: Kids rockin’ out? Check. googly eye chin faces? Check! Order the album at iTunes | Amazon. Chibi Kodama will be releasing their third family album, Stardust, in late May 2016. Sample and preorder tracks from the album here.
Emily Arrow is a kidlit singer-songwriter who brings children’s books to life through song. We are crazy about books here and when I first learned about Emily Arrow, I swept away by her magical ability to give the wonderful stories she covers a new dimension. Her sweet voice is immediately appealing and the songs have a pop radio quality to them. Arrow is 2015 Winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contestin the Children’s Category for her song The Curious Garden Song which wasinspired by the book THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown. Emily was also a finalist in the 2015 Great American Song Contest and the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Today’s video for “The Dot Song” is an older video but it’s featured on her debut Story Singalong Volume 1. Purchase the album Arrow’sher official site | iTunes | Amazon
Artist: Frances England Album: Explorer of the World (official store) | iTunes | Amazon NOTE: Read through for bonus activities for you and your family inspired by this album. England will be releasing an accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).
“Be an explorer of your world.” These were instructions given to my classmates and me during a recent improv class. Our assignment was to embody our experiences, put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
For example, the next time you eat sushi, imagine being the sushi chef. Embodying that identity brings you closer to the experience of eating sushi, appreciating the texture and taste beyond what you could access as just the consumer. You connect with your imagination and feed your curiosity.
I recalled the impact of this exercise when I first heard Frances England’s new album, Explorer of the World.
Sometimes people look they don’t see. They hear without listening. They miss the beat. And I don’t want to be the one to miss out. The one who’s not looking at the world around. (“Explorer of the World”)
We spend so much of our time in front of screens, digitally connecting with the world, that we forget to really see what’s around us. As my daughter Emily has gotten older and her interests have shifted more to gaming (and the excitement of a new Poseidon dragon being born in her game!), I admit I’ve become less motivated to get outside and just discover with her.
This modern-day state of affairs is partly what inspired England to create Explorer of the World, which urges families to find beauty in the world around us and really dig in.
Children are natural explorers and really the best improv instructors. Their imagination and super curiosity fuels us as parents. We get to break new ground with our kids in the real world. And it does get real. Like that moment when your child is playing with her umbrella in the gusty wind and she turns to you and asks, “What if I threw an umbrella up into space while standing on the sun?”
Those are the precious moments that Explorer of the World characterizes and inspires. In “Little by Little” England sings “I do love you, you appreciate the wonder in everything,” and I feel my heart ache because I want every moment to last while knowing the days are quickly ticking by. England brings such depth of emotion as a mother, the whole hearted and body feeling of loving your children with everything you have, wanting to savor the time you have with them while reassuring them (and yourself) that you will always be there. This is underscored in “My Street” as England sings, “I’ll be there to show, show, show you the way / I’ll be there to warn you about those twists and those turns / I’ll be there to lead you back home, to lead you back.”
What I love about Explorer of the World is the subtle reminder that feeding your curiosity doesn’t mean spending a lot of money or a big, grand outing; the world around us – whether city, country or our own backyard – provides so many little things to see, to understand and to learn. We can find patterns in common sights and familiar places and rhythm in everyday life, whether it’s stopping to listen to a beatboxer or grabbing hold of opportunity and pretending to be a tightrope walker on the shadow of a telephone wire.
A long-time resident of San Francisco, California, England uses the artful city as the backdrop and inspiration for her fourth album. In fact, England spent two years capturing the sights and the sounds of the city by carrying around a handheld recorder and integrating what she recorded into the songs. For Bay Area residents, the bucket drumming that opens “Street Life” is a street performance on Market Street, and ambient noises were recorded on late night walks through North Beach.
England is sensitive to the world. She feels through the things she sees and can so vividly recreate the richness and emotion of an experience. There is this layer of being awake, the exhilaration of seeing what we see when we step outdoors, to bond through our experiences together when we let the sizzle of our surroundings breathe life into us and take us away.
To produce Explorer of the World, England once again teamed up with Grammy award-winning producer Dean Jones. The album was also co-produced with Dave Winer from Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players. The result is a very eclectic composition that mixes electro and acoustic melodies and harmonies with a rhythmic blend of funk and beats. This new dynamic is a very fitting dimension to England’s smooth sound.
So whether we pretend to be a sushi chef, pack up a bag to climb Mt. Everest, make a map of our neighborhood, visit where our parents grew up, or actually fly to another land and step through a new culture, we have the power to experience life together as a family, treasuring every moment little by little. Those are memories that will change us, strengthen bonds, and last far beyond the time Poseidon the dragon was born.
Bonus activity: Be an explorer! Listen closely to England’s lyrics that offer fun suggestions to dive deeper into the adventures right outside your door. Watch for England’s accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).
Neighborhood Map: Make a map of your neighborhood. Draw in the houses. Fill in the trees. What about cars and their colors? Shrubs, animals, fences, mailboxes, kids, sidewalk cracks, neighborhood oddities and fixtures? Go home and draw your version of your neighborhood map and compare to your family members’ map. Discuss the ways you see things in similar and different ways.
Quiet Observation: Take a camera and notebook on a walk. Spend 10-20 minutes walking silently (depending on your children’s ages) and observe the things you pass every day until you find at least three patterns you’ve never noticed before. Look for shapes. Look for color. Talk about the patterns. Take notes. Take photos of the patterns.
Neighborhood History: Find out who has lived on your street the longest. Interview them. What has changed? What’s better? What’s worse?
People Watching: Sit on a bench in a public area or silently walk through your town or city. Listen to the people walking by. What are they saying? Write a story about who they are and where they’re going.
Family Meeting: Arrange a time for a family meeting. Bring a calendar. Have each family member name a place he or she really wants to go this year. Maybe the museum, the waterpark, the train stations, the zoo, camping trip, kayaking, the mountains, the ocean. Decide what’s realistic and write it down (whether it’s today, tomorrow, this year or in the near future).
On April 1, 2016 Frances England will release her fifth family album, Explorer of the World, which encourages families to experience life by connecting more with their surroundings. Prior to making the album, England spent two years observing and capturing the sights and the sounds of her neighborhood and local areas of San Francisco, CA, with a handheld recorder. Some of the sounds were then integrated into many of the songs on the album.
Today I am excited to share a video teaser and audio clip with you for the track “Ballad for a Beatboxer,” which features vocal percussionist Carlos Aguirre.
The song’s arrangement contains England’s soft melodies laced with Aguirre’s hip hop inspired beats. The two flow very well together, and the style is a welcome addition to England’s repertoire, which has steadily expanded into more rootsy, rhythmic territory. Aguirre really infuses the song with so much of what leaves me in awe about beatboxers: The musical landscape they create is borne from what they feel inside their heart and soul. They are the instrument and the musical language they speak is so genuinely unique. England eloquently expresses this sentiment as she sings “And I can feel all the love he puts into those beat, he gives them to the people / He makes the world all his own / Where the music doesn’t stop / And the beat goes…
England and Aguirre have worked together for many years at StageWrite, a nonprofit in San Francisco, CA, that teaches literacy through playwriting workshops. England helps attending kids write songs for their plays and Aguirre helps with the playwriting and expression exercises through beatboxing.
In addition to the video teaser you, you can take a listen to the full track, as well as other tracks from the album through the Soundcloud widget below.
For updates on the new album, new videos and related news, stay in touch with England through her official site, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, and don’t miss the release of Explorer of the World on April 1, 2016. It’s a stunning, magnificent, hip, inspiring album and I can’t wait to share more of it with you!
Check out my full album review which also includes music videos and family activity suggestions inspired by the album.
Spring is on the way! This time of year is always filled with anticipation as the days grow longer and bits of warm weather are just enough to entice little buds to make their way toward full bloom. There’s a refreshing sense of renewal and spirits noticeably begin to lift. One of my favorite flowers is the sunflower. The yellow ones are like bursts of sunshine and, as their big beautiful faces joyfully turned toward the sun, they just make me smile.
In honor of these bright beauties and the changing of the seasons, I am premiering a new video for “Sunflower Serenade” by Pete Sinjin, a NY-based singer-songwriter. Sinjin, better known as “Hootenanny Pete,” offers up a refreshing acoustic folk/pop tune that speaks to the propensity for growth and creativity we all have within us. Sinjin notes: “In this lifetime all you need / is a little faith and a pack of seeds.” Just delightful.
“Sunflower Serenade” is from Sinjin’s family album, House of Song. Sinjin notes, “The original inspiration for House of Song came about while walking the streets of NYC and recognizing the diversity of its people. From there came the notion of a house that invited and celebrated ‘all people, all races, all colors, all faces’. A gathering place where everyone could find themselves singing in harmony and raising the rooftop with the spirit of love and acceptance.”
“Sunflower Serenade” is available through iTunes, CDBaby or Amazon. You can also sample tracks from and purchase House of Song through these links.
Telling my daughter “the sky’s the limit” feels powerful. Honoring her ideas and imagining all the possibilities with her creates moments that I hope feed her soul and open up her field of vision to look beyond the obstacles. And if an obstacle pops up, my wish is that she’ll know it’s neither the end of the story nor the end of the world. It’s just a bump on the road to reaching her goal.
The real reward, after all, isn’t “winning” or “nailing that project” but what we’ve learned along the way. How we pushed through the moments of frustration and desperation. And how we got stronger and more self-assured for all the sweat and angst. That’s what I want my daughter to know. It takes patience to fulfill your dreams and take action on brilliant ideas and it just isn’t easy sometimes. But the gold at the end of that rainbow is worth it.
LA-based group Mista Cookie Jar and The Chocolate Chips (MCJ) are one of the biggest champions of bringing positive messages into households. This family ensemble is eager to reach young, developing minds and to inspire thinkers, dreamers, and those of us young at heart.
Today I am proud to premiere the first video in a series of video releases this week celebrating MCJ’s forthcoming album, Music is Everywhere (release date: March 11, 2016).
“Hold on to Your Dreams” is an all-natural fam jam that calls attention to a critical part of the dream equation. The act of encouraging kids to hold on to and follow their dreams is a big piece, and the love and support we offer as parents is the charge in the formula that gives our kids the surge to “keep goin’, keep holdin’ on.” To travel carefully over each bump.
Role models come in all forms and MCJ and the Chocolate Chips are making their mark. In just over a year, they have written 13 songs (one song per month) as well as produced their own videos. In “Hold On To Your Dreams” and with their forthcoming release of new songs and previously released singles this group has become a shining example of what it means to persevere. They have done it as a family, showing that having a solid family foundation fuels the flames that lead to glorious results. And that makes it all worth it in the end.
Keep up with Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips this week through their official site, FB page and Twitter. You can also subscribe to their YouTube channel to get updates on new video releases. Below is a brief interview with Mista Cookie Jar about this week’s plans and a brief behind the scenes look the making and meaning of “Hold On To Your Dreams.”
KCG: Tell us a bit about how the song and video cam about. How did you start making music with Tembra and Lyrin?
MCJ: Our friend Tembra and her daughter Lyrin have been in the Chocolate Chip crew from the very beginning. Lyrin is like a cousin to my kids, Ava and Lucas. They grew up together. Tembra is childhood friends with Jenna aka Missis Cookie Jar. “Hold On To Your Dreams” has been around for years, honed and crafted over late night jam sessions and bonfires. Tembra and Lyrin moved up to the redwoods a few years ago from LA, so we’ve continued the tradition of family sing-a-longs and camping when we go up north to visit them in. This video captures the spirit of enjoying the wonders of nature in Northern Cali with friends and family. Cell service is terrible so it’s a nice treat to have some phone detox QT with the whole fam bam.
KCG: The album and this song particular has a real “lived-in” vibe. I’m sure this has a bit to do with your song-a-month mission and EP release. Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting/recording process?
MCJ: Our new album, Music is Everywhere,has an organic quality to it which I believe is something to appreciate. It’s this soulful approach to playing music that is becoming a rare bird, especially for younger tech-savvy generations. I’m happy to toss my hat in the ring and go back to the roots — especially before I switch it up again with some banging beats!
KCG: What’s in store for this week?
MCJ: Everyday this week, Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips will be dropping 5 new music videos – one new on each day – leading up to the world premiere of our 3rd album, Music is Everywhere. This release process was totally inspired by the marketing stunt for Weird Al’s last album release. We wanted to really make the new album an event, ya know? I’m excited to share all the videos! Don’t wanna give too much away, but there is some claymation, some ballet, some live stuff and even cutting edge 360 video technology — you know, where you either have one of those Oculus head sets or you just move your phone around or scroll with your finger to see the YouTube vid in 3D.
The songs on Music is Everywherehave mostly all been released as singles or on an EP during my single-a-month run this past year. But there will be a couple brand spanking new tracks on the record — one of which will be released with a video on the same day of the album release.
Music is Everywhere will be premiering March 11, 2016 on Zooglobble. Stay tuned via the aforementioned links to get the latest and greatest updates.
“Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago. ” – Sandra Velasquez
Sandra Lilia Velasquez is a force of nature. Dubbed “SLV,” she’s as driven and passionate as an artist as she is a mother.
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Sandra is known in the adult music world as the lead singer of the nationally and internationally acclaimed Latin group Pistolera and front-woman of SLV, her solo effort. She also is the songwriter and lead singer for the bilingual (Spanish-English) kindie band Moona Luna.
Since their 2006 kindie music debut, they have released three highly acclaimed albums. Panorama, Moona Luna’s most recent release, was inspired by Sandra’s journey as a mother, world explorer and lover of travel.
I had a chance to speak with Sandra about the album, and dive deeper into her creative process. What swelled from the conversation was a sheer tidal wave of insight, strength and passion in a way that only Sandra could deliver.
Kids Can Groove: Panorama was just released and it’s Moona Luna’s third album. I love how it blends together themes of travel, love and family.
Sandra Lilia Velasquez: I feel like it’s our best album. I think everyone feels that way about their newest work, but that’s actually how I feel.
With the very first Moona Luna album, kindie music was new to me. My band and I had been playing together for 10 years as Pistolera with a musical vibe very similar to Moona Luna. It was Latin music. It was upbeat. It was in Spanish, but the content was much more adult. Pistolera’s songs are about immigration, feminism, and life issues – things that children can’t relate to.
When I was writing the first Moona Luna album I thought, “Okay, how do I get in touch with my strong, non-political side, kid-friendly side?” I had my daughter as my guide. She was only three-years-old so the themes were geared more towards her age group and her interests. With the second album, my daughter was learning about time, what time is and how to tell time, so the songs on that album related to a time theme.
My daughter is now eight-years-old. The content for Moona Luna has grown along with her and on Panorama it’s clear that we’re not tailoring it to three-year-olds anymore. We’re just playing music and trying to make it sonically fun with singalong parts and fun instruments but it’s a little more of a grown up sound.
KCG: Has your journey of motherhood influenced your journey as a person and a musician?
SLV: Yeah, I don’t know how to separate them. Now that I have a daughter, the reality is that I can’t go on tour for a month. You really learn how to use every moment of every day, whether it’s a moment for yourself or whether it’s moment to spend with your child. As a musician, I really have to plan everything out – working on music certain days or planning what I’m going to do after my daughter goes to sleep. Everything is worked around having a child and I’m sure that this will change as she grows. At every stage you have to keep living your life with the schedule of the needs of the child. I can’t even picture what it would be like to not have a child. I have friends that are musicians that don’t have children and I just think you have no idea how much time you have.
KCG:So true! My daughter is seven-years-old now and it has gotten a lot easier, though now that I have a little more time I tend to reflect on my own childhood and think about how I can model certain life skills for her. I really relate to the family theme in Panorama. “I’m Always Here” and “Llevame” both have a kind of motherly/parental, reassuring vibe to them.
SLV: Panorama has a very strong family theme. You can’t really separate the family theme from the album. There are some people that play music for children who don’t have children. I always marvel at that because my music is so informed by my experience of having a child. You know those feelings that you can’t really explain to other people or that you could explain but it sounds very abstract? Like what it feels like to be protective of someone eternally. People, they know what that means in the abstract, but they don’t know what that feeling is. So those songs on the album are very much informed by that experience of being an actual mother and watching someone grow.
As your child grows, one day you realize they are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. You have this moment of “Wow…” You really learn by watching your parents be themselves. I don’t think that I actually realized that until I was completely in my 30s. It’s not really about what your parents tell you to do. It’s about how you see them live their lives and you decide if you want to mimic some of those traits.
I write from the experience of being somebody who loves somebody unconditionally and is watching them grow and wants them to want to be independent and wants them to be strong in the world but also wants them to be a good person.
KCG: “Espejos (Mirrors)” is one of my favorite songs and the message in the song really relates to, as you say, realizing your children are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. Specifically in the words, “Did you ever wonder why your smile looks like mine? / Just like my mother before me. / Our laughter has the same ring.”
SLV: Mirrors are the things we all see. When you look at your child and see that they have your hands, or your feet or your eyes. And you see how you’re connected with your own parents. It’s almost so obvious to say it but that’s really the root of that song. Espejos is really the things you see in your child that are part of you. You feel like you’re looking in a mirror.
KCG: You are a part of 3 bands (Pistolera, SLV and Moona Luna). Previously, you talked about having a schedule and maintaining a work-life balance. How do you stay true to the work and the process required to fulfill the role of mother and musician while also setting an example for your daughter?
SLV: I was lucky to have mother who was extremely strong-willed and driven. She is an immigration lawyer, activist and professor. That is why I am the way that I am. When you are young, you don’t understand. I would think, “You’re never around. Why aren’t you here?” Then as I got older, I realized she just loved to work; her job is not just a job, it’s her passion. It’s her career. That work ethic and that kind of dedication to your passion translated into music for me. I’m the same way as my mother. I just go for what I want. My daughter will learn by watching me be myself.
KCG: Does your daughter join you for live performances and is she also involved in music?
I bring my daughter with me as much as possible. She comes to my shows. She’s backstage with me. She sits in the audience. She’s at the merchandise table with me. If I can bring her, I will bring her. She’s seen me perform a million times now. She sees me practicing. The lesson is if you want to be good at something you have to practice and put in time with it. I was forced to play music as a child and I hated it and couldn’t wait to quit.
I’m not forcing her to be a musician but I want her to practice something. When you’re older, no one is ever mad that they play an instrument and speak two languages. No one ever says, “I wish I didn’t speak another language” or “I wish I didn’t play the violin.” It’s hard to learn anything new but if you can stick with practicing something then over time you do get better and you have this additional skill. Not everyone has that.
For me, of course, I always laugh at the poetry of the fact that my mother forced me to speak Spanish and to take piano lessons, both of which I rejected at the time and now I’m a musician and I sing in Spanish. I guess Mom was right.
KCG: Was Spanish the primary language spoken in your home?
SLV: Yes. My mom is from Mexico. My Dad is also Mexican but he was born in California. So, he’s basically Chicano. I was born in San Diego and growing up, my mother basically would just not answer me if I didn’t speak to her in Spanish. My Dad was a little more lenient so I would always go run to him.
KCG: Did either of your parents play music or did you grow up with music played in your home?
SLV: My family is not musical. Both my parents grew up with very little opportunity and they were proud to be able to provide me with an opportunity like piano lessons. My father is an artist, a painter, and was very encouraging artistically. All the walls in my bedroom were murals. He just gave me the paintbrushes and acrylic paint and said, “Do whatever you want.” As an artist, he understands that urgent feeling inside like “I need to go create!” or “I need to go paint!” or “I need to go write a song!” or “I need to go play the drums!” Whatever is your passion, it’s like a drive – a calling – that you can’t just stop. Not every parent gets that.
As a musician, you always hear these stories about other musicians and how maybe they grew up singing in the church or both of their parents are singers. I did not grow up in that kind of family so I feel like I have to work really hard at music because I don’t feel like there was any genetic traits sent down to me to be musically inclined. Both my parents are super supportive, though. They give all my records to their neighbors.
KCG: Was your family into travel?
SLV: Yes! Travel was instilled in me at a young age. We took a trip every year, visiting places like Canada, Mexico, Hawaii. We have albums full of family photos documenting our trips. My mother traveled a lot for work, still does, and my father would always go to the museums in Europe. Everyone in my family loves to travel so it seems like my passion either comes the experiences of taking family trips or it’s a genetic thing where we have this drive to go places.
KCG: As a musician, you’ve been able to tour – nationally with Moona Luna and both internationally and nationally with Pistolera. Was the idea of touring a kind of compass directing you toward becoming a musician and forming a band?
SLV: Traveling is a crucial part of my life. I always have to have a trip planned. Travel is a huge luxury and such a gift to be able to do. I just love going to other places seeing how other people live. Traveling puts you in your place in the world. It’s very easy to get caught up in your world and think about how things are a certain way.
As a musician I get to do two things that I love to do: travel and play music. Travel informs my music and the more you are informed and the more experiences you have it all becomes fodder for writing. You have to have something to write about.
KCG: As you reflect on/were reflecting back on your own travel memories, and also imagining traveling with your daughter, what would you want her to see or hope that she gets out of it?
SLV: I want her to see that other people live differently. That is the main takeaway from traveling – people have much less and are happy and grateful. Not every kid has an iPad, or needs one. To learn that people are fundamentally the same everywhere is a great life lesson. It opens your mind so much.
KCG: In Old School Way you say “I can take it all,” “I can take it in.” Was there a particular experience tied to that feeling of greatness?
SLV: I’ve been to a lot of different pyramids in Latin America – in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. You go really early when the sun is first coming out and it’s pretty magical. At the top, you can see the entire jungle floor and it just looks endless. You don’t see any fences; there aren’t any parking lots. It’s just completely free, open, lush jungle. We have natural wonders here in the U.S. but in terms of architectural relics we don’t so much have that. The Grand Canyon is beautiful but touristy. There are probably parts where you can go and feel like you are the only one. But, you don’t see the parking lots when you are at the pyramids.
KCG: Many of the songs reference walking or things you saw on the streets.
SLV: When I was visiting Latin America, I always just took the bus somewhere and then walked around a town. I am always interested in really being in a place so I never do tours or anything guided. I never rent cars. I usually walk or take buses. In the songs you refer to, I am flashing back to walking around the town square in Chiapas, Mexico, on cobblestone streets. There is no better way to get to know a place than to literally walk around it. You stumble upon things like restaurants or climbing steps to get to a church on top of a hill. It is just very freeing.
KCG: How did you come up with the name and concept for the album?
SLV: I’m always looking for titles that are bilingual. Panorama is a perfect example because it’s the same word in English and Spanish. Once I thought of the album’s title, it was just easy to come up with songs that related to the themes of travel and family. The title is like the seed. I also like having a theme with an album, which is something that is recurring with Moona Luna and some Pistolera albums, too, where it’s about a whole experience or a whole journey.
Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago.
KCG: What was it like to relive your memories by envisioning them with your daughter? Does it change the experience for you in any way.
SLV: Yes, in a couple ways. First, I can’t do anything dangerous. If I was alone, I might stay in a cheap hostel not in the best part of town. With a child in tow, I would never take those risks. Kids tend to not like lying around in hammocks drinking vodka! I would have to consider things that are also fun for her.
KCG: Panorama is a bilingual album with Spanish songs, English songs and a blend in the same song. Do you feel the language is also a part of the journey? Can families get a sense of a different culture from your album?
SLV: I think the music comes first and people hear the lyrics after. The feeling you get from the music is the most important. I like when people sing along to things they can’t understand simply because they like the melody. I definitely feel like families can get a feel for different cultures from the different musical cues – African rhythms and Latin percussion.
KCG: Panorama has more of a rhythmic sound to it than previous albums. Did you change the arrangements to flow along with the songs?
SLV: The style that you hear in a lot of Moona Luna and Pistolera songs is called Cumbia and that is very popular in Mexico. It’s actually Columbian but it’s very popular in Mexico. Some people hear it as Reggae or some people hear it as Ska. I grew up just hearing that in San Diego because it’s like you just can’t not hear it. It’s not even like my parents were blasting it on their home stereo. You hear it from a car driving by or the people in the restaurant are playing it. I didn’t really notice how much it was played until I moved to New York.
I wrote Panorama with my songwriting partner, Sean Dixon, who has played African music for many years and played bass on the album. Sean is also a drummer so he brought in a different rhythmic element to get me out of my Latin groove, which I could stay in forever, so it was nice.
KCG: What would you like our audience to take away from listening to Panorama?
SLV: Travel is something that is dear to my heart and I feel that to be able to communicate that through an album is really cool because the family trips that you take when you’re kid really stay with you. I feel like a lot of people can relate to traveling with their families. Together, you get to experience something new, something different and maybe you learn something. People always remember being in the back of their parents’ avocado green car. They remember how it smelled how it felt and those are the memories that stay with you.
Also, everyone needs a good soundtrack for the car! If everyone has one favorite song, that makes me feel good.
Marsha Goodman-Wood is a ninja in disguise. She is a DC-based singer/songwriter who makes music for clever kids with sharp imaginations and active minds brimming with curiosity. Marsha is also a former cognitive neuroscientist. Yep, you read that right. Brain science…pretty cool.
As a songwriter, Marsha brings her educational background and combines it with her experience as a music and drama teacher as well as her role as a mom of three. “I think about all the intense brain development that is going on in my young audiences,” Marsha says. “[My background] also shapes the way that I engage with my audience. Because music uses all our senses, it activates more parts of the brain and creates very strong memories; so music is an ideal vehicle for learning. Just think of the ABCs, and how ingrained that song is in all of us.”
I am happy to present two goodies to you today – the video world premiere for Marsha’s single “Ninja School”* from her debut solo album Gravity Vacation, and an illuminating guest post where Marsha dives further into the whole body benefits of music.
And of course, fist bump to all those ninjas in training out there.
Marsha is currently writing for her next record which she expects to record in 2016 with her recently-formed band, The Positrons. Stay up to date with news about Marsha through her official site, Facebook, Twitter or Reverbnation, and catch her latest videos by subscribing to her YouTube channel.
*The “Ninja School” video was produced by NY-based kids artist and video producer, Patricia Shih, with illustrations by Giulia Neves.
I’m a cognitive neuroscientist by training, which means I used to study the brain and am still fascinated by how our brains work. I think of music as a great connector that ties together lots of different processes that are happening simultaneously in our brains. It activates our senses, is a total body experience (if you want to be technical, uses both our gross motor skills and fine motor skills), and brings an emotional and human connection. Music is also a universal source of joy!
There’s some fascinating research that shows how music can aid learning and how closely music & movement are tied to language development in young children. Brain researchers have looked at movements that involve coordinating the right & left sides of the body and ones that use our whole personal space, and have found that there’s a strong link between actions which send messages from one side of the brain to the other and the kinds of signals that our brains send from one side to the other when we read and speak. So, when we sing a song like “The Wheels on the Bus” or add actions or dance moves to any song, we’re building and strengthening connections in the brain that are important for language development.
With my music, I think about what kinds of moves I can offer little kids to reinforce those connections kids are forming. When I perform “Ninja School” I ask the kids to show off their martial arts moves (karate chops, kicks, leaps and such). When I can, I like to include something interesting in my songs for older kids or grownups, too, like mixing fun facts into the song so there’s something to take home and think about. The title track for my record Gravity Vacation has facts about gravity and inertia that kids like to bounce along to, mixed in with some “la-la-las” the audience can sing along with. The bonus, though, is they still absorb the facts so I get the coolest stories later. A mom told me her 3-year-old old daughter explained to her out of the blue one day that we stay on the ground because of gravity! Another family told me they were sitting around the breakfast table talking about the moons of Jupiter and started checking out NASA info online because the song sparked the kids’ curiosity.
I tend to put positive messages and a little something educational into my songs because kids are sponges. They absorb everything we put out, so why not give them something interesting to think about that they might not have heard before? Mixing in information that sparks their curiosity and complements what they’re learning now in school (or what they will need to learn at some point down the line) is a built-in bonus. Maybe it reaches that one kid who is not connecting with material in the classroom. Maybe it inspires a child’s fascination in science and creates a budding scientist.
Plus, you don’t have to teach a kid to have fun. Music is inherently fun and if you write a catchy tune and make it musically interesting that’s a ton of fun in and of itself. There’s definitely a place for adding in humor, imagination, and silliness in kids music. Helping listeners to explore outrageous ideas is something many artists do well, but I’m OK with taking it to a different place. It’s definitely tricky to write a song that’s educational, yet still fun and not preachy. That’s where I try to go, and I believe people pick up on that and enjoy that about my music.
Some of the other messages in my songs are the kinds of messages that I feel we as parents are trying to share all the time. I loved hearing from the mom who told me her 8-year-old twin boys were always reluctant to wear helmets, but after listening to “Wear a Helmet,” they started enthusiastically wearing them! Another mom told me her 5-year-old was about to show her a new wiggly tooth, but said, “I need to go wash the germs off my hands before I touch my mouth,” since she had picked up the message in “Nobody Likes Viruses and Germs.” It’s amazing to think something you wrote could affect people like that.
I’m not sure where my songwriting will take me. All I know is that I’m on a journey where I’m trying to stay true to myself and write about what inspires me. The great thing about working with kids is that they are full of questions and make you think about things differently. Sometimes their questions spark my curiosity or lead me somewhere new as I try to answer them. I feel that kids can understand anything if you explain it well, so I want to honor their questions with real answers and not assume a concept is too far over their heads. It challenges me to make sure I understand a concept well enough to explain it to a 5-year-old or an 8-year-old. If that leads to a song, it’s a win-win in my book!
Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein (aka The Pop Ups) are on a path to reach the stars! Since their 2011 debut, this Brooklyn-based duo has produced four albums, created their first stage show Pasta!, premiered a music video for “Subway Train” at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, received two Grammy nominations, were featured guests on Sprout TV’s “Sunny Side Up Show,” and released their first web series (14 episodes).
Recently, Jason and Jacob expanded further into broadcasting territory with their first full-length digital video, The Great Pretenders Club (“The GPC Special”), which was released in partnership with Amazon and made available exclusively to Prime Members for streaming.
The GPC Special brings the concept of their eponymous 4th album to life: the magic and rewards of pretend play (my favorite kind!). Just like Sesame Street pioneered children’s television in the 1970s, The GPC Special steps up to honor the values of “unplugged” play and education while acknowledging that the delivery of media broadcast is changing.
The parallel between the classic Sesame Street productions and the production style of The GPC Special is pleasantly familiar. The Pop Ups’ attention to detail is stupendous, and each element – use of brilliant color, puppets, music – comes together in a fantastic multi-media experience. It’s clear that The Pop Ups have managed to hold onto the kids within themselves, and by playing at their craft, they not only are practicing what they preach, but inviting us to play along with them.
Although geared toward children, The GPC Specialwill tickle the nostalgic funny bone of grown-ups who grew up watching Sesame Street. The feature employs the same subtle mature sense of humor that will encourage parents to watch along with their children and take part in the experience.
I recently caught up with Jason and Jacob, and producer Avtar Khalsa, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process that lead to this milestone. Since The Great Pretenders Clubalbum preceded the creation of the The GPC Special, I asked The Pop Ups some questions about their creative inspiration before diving deeper into the studio experience with Avtar. There were a few surprises I didn’t see coming!
As you’ll read in the interview below, Jason and Jacob are two playful guys who take the study of play pretty seriously. And with a stellar cast and crew, their vision for the next generation was brought to life.
KCG: Jacob and Jason, let’s start with the concept for The Great Pretenders Club album since that gave way to the creation of The GPC Special. What was the inspiration for The Great Pretenders Club in the first place? Did you have ideas about developing it into a broadcast special from the start?
Jacob Stein: The songs were built around the idea of play, with each one celebrating a different imaginative game or adventure. We were really interested in theories behind play being one of the great tools for learning in the animal world. We spent some time reading and researching papers on the subject. My cousin, Marc Beckoff, is a PhD who studies animal play and he really helped us see the bigger picture.
At a certain point the idea to corral the songs into a connected piece called The Great Pretenders Club became one of those obvious moments in art, which you could never have predicted but which also feels undeniable once it appears. We’ve always dreamed of making a TV show, and this felt like a natural place to take the album concept.
KCG: Did acting out the scenes in the studio bring you closer to experiencing your music?
JS: We wrote much of the album in a beautiful field in the woods of Cobbleskill, NY in the Catskills mountains, a 10-minute walk from any phones or internet or even electricity.
KCG: Was being on set similar to being on stage during live performances? Though both productions are theatrical in nature your live shows are just the two of you and your puppets.
JS: For the acting production, it’s just so different. We built a big set and we had a big crew of puppeteers, producers, PAs and sound and camera people, and wardrobe and art departments. The list just goes on! Sometimes we had as many as 10-15 people on set for any given shot.
What was also different about this production was that me and Jason were not doing all of
the puppeteering ourselves. We got to watch our very personal characters take on a new life in the hands of extremely talented puppeteers Paul McGuinness and Matt Atcheson.
KCG: Did you have favorite roles/parts?
Jason Rabinowitz: When I get blown off screen by the storm in “On Air,” I jumped into a metal file cabinet. That was exciting! I liked being the conductor, honestly.
KCG: Avtar, how did you first get involved with The Pop Ups?
Avtar Khalsa: They were looking for a Producer for their web series last year, and my name showed up on a list of recommendations. The band’s Manager Jon McMillan and I had worked together peripherally on another project years back (The Railroad Revival Tour), so when he saw my name he got in touch right away. I went down to The Pop Ups’ studio in Brooklyn to discuss the project and see if it was a good fit. When I walked into the room and shook their hands I immediately sensed their eagerness to to make something really great. I could tell something incredibly special was happening there in their little studio space, and I wanted to be a part of it!
There are many bands that make music for children, and there are many people who make cartoons and put on puppet shows, but they were doing it all together, in such a unique, thoughtful, imaginative, and brilliant way. Fun and relatable to kids, yet educational, and something their parents could enjoy too. And the music is amazing, those catchy songs really get stuck in your head!
KCG: Is this your first production for children’s media?
AK: I mostly work on commercials, and some have been geared towards children, or had children in them, but the work I’ve done with The Pop Ups is the first I’d actually call children’s media.
KCG: Is this your first time working with puppets on camera?
AK: Yes! In production we need to be able to adapt to any situation, and it’s always a constant learning experience, but I never thought I was going to be learning about the importance of the puppet wall, or the perfectly placed googly eye. It was great watching the first rehearsals with their puppets Up, Down and Chef Olivia di Pesto. Seeing these characters come to life was a true joy.
The first time you meet puppets in person you kind of fall in love. There is something so magical about them. As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, it might partly be nostalgia, but they immediately bring a smile to anyone’s face, and lighten any situation. Every time I would mention to anyone that I was working on a shoot with puppets, their eyes would widen and they’d say, “I love puppets!!” Because I think everyone does.
KCG: Where did you draw inspiration from for the making of the GPC Special?
AK: After the web series was released I had been in contact with The Pop Ups about some music videos they wanted to make. By the time I was brought on to produce them, they had morphed into The Great Pretenders Club Special. Most of the creative and storyline was already in place. It made sense that they were making it into more of a show then just individual videos. I personally think they should make an episodic TV series, it would be a perfect fit for what they do, and a great way to inspire young children around the globe.
KCG: The album’s concept is based on encouraging and rewarding imaginary play. Did you find this to be challenging or easy to convey on screen?
AK: The Pop Ups are naturals when it comes to this. They have a complete grasp on how to relate to and catch the attention of young minds. They know how to entertain them, spark their imagination, and to teach them life lessons without them even knowing they are learning. Jason and Jacob have every scene planned out in their mind, they know ahead of time – frame by frame – how they want the video to be shot, acted, art directed, and edited. Everything is well thought out, and their creative vision is very clear.
The biggest challenge, I think, is getting their ideas organized and down on paper so they can be properly conveyed to the crew who has to help make them come to life!
KCG: How did you create the orchestra segment? What was the process behind that and the “Jake Maker”?
AK: First we had to build a Jacob Maker. Our Production Designer Melissa Chow is also,
it turns out, a magician. Once that was built, we just had to put Jacob inside and pull the lever. The rest is science! And green screen.
KCG: What was the most memorable moment(s)?
AK: The chicken soup/spaghetti scene was a lot of fun to make, as was the picnic scene. They both required a lot of choreography and comedic timing to get things just right. But I think the guys nailed it.
We also really loved having DJ Gia stop by the shoot. After days of shooting with our adult crew, it was nice to have a child on set doing her thing. She’s a seasoned radio DJ, but it was her first time on a film set, and she was a little shy at first. Seeing Jacob ease her out of her shell, getting her to laugh and feel comfortable was really cool. The band genuinely loves kids, and I think they really get them, and can get on their level and relate.
KCG: Did Chef Olivia make meals for the crew?
AK: When Chef Olivia di Pesto isn’t filming cooking shows, she’s doing press events, book signings, or private events for foreign royalty. She’s a busy cat, so we felt really lucky to have her stop by for a picnic with the band. She didn’t have time to cook for us while she was there, but she did bring the crew tuna sandwiches for lunch. They were delicious!
KCG: Did you show early footage to kids and their families? What was some feedback you received?
AK: Jason’s daughter Ruthie has always been a good test audience. I wasn’t there when she watched it for the first time, but I heard she was in complete awe, and Jason was pretty excited about her reaction.
Amazon Prime Members can stream the The GPC Specialhere and The Great Pretenders Club album here.
Computer/Laptop – Stream the GPC Special from the Amazon Video Webpage. Iphone/Ipad/Android device – download the Amazon Video App to stream and even download the GPC Special. Roku/etc – Stream the video from the Amazon Video App.